Zee’s mother passed on after a 7 year battle with cancer. Zee found herself with a grief that was so consuming it ended up manifesting physically in her body.
Zee had to find her own unique way to cope with her grief because what others suggested didn’t work for her. She eventually developed her own regimen that includes weightlifting and dance.
Zee is part of the Speaking Grief project, a documentary film, and more to help people speak about their grief. You can find them at:
Brian Smith 0:00
Hey everybody, this is Brian back with another episode of grief to growth. And today I’ve got with me, z Walters, and we’re going to talk about Z’s journey to where she is today. She She is a history teacher at chaffey College. And Z’s mother died after seven year battle with breast cancer. And z got involved with a project called speaking grief in the past year. And she’s been talking about her experience with grief, and specifically how her grief manifests physically. And how the turn to weightlifting overcome that. So z is a teacher at chaffey College, and we’re going to talk about her journey. So I want to welcome z to grief to growth.
Zee Wolters 0:37
Hi, Brian. Thank you. And thank you for having me on your show. I appreciate it. Yeah, it’s really it’s great to meet you and get to know more about your story. We all go through grief differently. It all hits us all differently. we all deal with it differently. And it sounds like you found a quite an I don’t say unusual, but an interesting way of approaching dealing with degree but first, tell me about your mother and tell me what happened with with your mother. Right. So my mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
It was pretty much my first semester of grad school, actually. So I was in my kind of mid 20s. And I was now you know, working full time. I just started a full time grad program and now caretaking on top of that. And we were you know, and we’re small family. It was you know, just me my sister, my dad, my mom and my husband in this country.
My mom’s family was is still all in England. So it was you know, it became kind of the major focus of my life at that time. And we were fortunate that, you know, my dad is a doctor and was able to get her really good treatment. And she had a really good quality of life for as long as as possible. You know, her thing was always, you know, she didn’t want to be bedridden, she didn’t want to not be able to do things. And honestly that that kind of last few months of her life where she she did ended up, you know, not fully bedridden, but it was getting there. And I think she was just, you know, ready to say goodbye at that point.
Unknown Speaker 2:32
Zee Wolters 2:34
Um, but yeah, you know, I think just to kind of, you know, my whole life from when we heard her diagnosis was really about, you know, making all of my decisions based around that so that I would make the most of the time I had with her and that I would have as few regrets as as possible. So really, everything that I did was okay, do you know if I don’t go over to mom’s house today? Will I regret it later? You know, if I don’t bring her dinner today? Will I regret it later? If I don’t call her right now? Will I regret it later? And so every decision I made had had that part to it.
Brian Smith 3:13
Yeah. It just becomes all consuming when someone’s going through like that. Something like that. Yeah. So your mother, it sounds like she was fairly comfortable up until up until the end. And were you able to be with her when she transitioned? or?
Zee Wolters 3:27
Yeah, we were we were in the hospital. She she was having a procedure to drain some of the fluid from the lungs and she had a Do Not Resuscitate. Honestly, it happened in December, and she always seemed to get a little worse in the fall winter periods. And then she seemed to be a little bit better in the spring and summer months. And so she had been admitted into the hospital. And honestly, like, we knew it was bad, but we were really expecting her to come home like my sister and I we cleaned up, you know, cleaned up her room put flowers in it at home, because we knew that she was going to you know, probably not be able to leave her room very much. So we decorated her room really nice, you know, got her some new books did it all nice. And we we were really expecting. You know, okay, it’s a bad turn, but she’ll be home in a few days.
Unknown Speaker 4:29
Zee Wolters 4:31
my dad, we’ve gone we’ve kind of been staying there alternatively. And we’d gone home that evening, my dad stayed at the hospital with us and then we got the phone call first thing in the morning, you know, come now. And I think my mom was just kind of that day was just waiting for us to show up at the hospital and they they did the procedure We were just right outside the door, actually, they had a curtain, and we were just standing right outside. And she didn’t make it.
Brian Smith 5:07
Yeah, sorry. So, um, obviously losing a loved one, someone’s close as your mother. And if you were a caretaker and everything, this does hit you really hard. So what was the grief, like in those early stages,
Zee Wolters 5:20
um, you know, it was, it was kind of a weird experience, because being Muslim, the burial has to be done immediately. As long as that’s possible, you know, if there’s, there’s no reason to do an autopsy or anything like that, you have to have the burial immediately. And then you do a memorial service 40 days later, and my mom just wanted a quiet family only a burial that way. And then to have the big memorial service, that way her family could come for the memorial service. So it was it was pretty, you know, right after there was there was all kinds of things that we had to do to get everything organized. And then even with that kind of 40 days, it was a lot of you know, okay, we got to get, you know, the mom to come, we’ve got to, you know, figure out who’s talking or to the food get. And so it was with everything going on, and I was still in grad school. And I actually like, you know, filled out some grant applications and you know, did some other stuff. And I was like, Oh, you know, I can continue continue going on. Like, I don’t need to take a leave of absence like this is you know, and then it was really kind of after the memorial service, when things kind of started to die down. And then by that time, you know, not as many people, you know, everybody sent the flowers, they’ve sent the cards they’ve called. And so then it’s just kind of quiet. And that I feel like is when it really hit it was just like, oh, like, I really can’t do anything now. Yeah,
Brian Smith 6:59
that’s a very common experience. I think that there’s there’s first few days weeks, we’re in due mode, right? So we have to kind of shut down our emotions, and we’re, we’re busy doing and people are coming and going. So we don’t really have time to go within. And then it’s it’s that six weeks or so afterwards, that when we find ourselves alone, and we start reflecting on what we’re feeling.
Zee Wolters 7:22
Yeah, yeah, it’s it. You know, I think that’s there was there was a lot of, you know, mental distractions. right then. And then all of a sudden, they weren’t there. The people weren’t there. And so all you have is time to think.
Brian Smith 7:37
Yeah. How did how did that feel for you? I know, you said that you you were unable to speak your grief, I guess at first.
Zee Wolters 7:44
Yeah, it was it was really hard. And it wasn’t like a denial type of situation where it was in denial that anything had happened. It was just it was so emotional, that I didn’t know how to put it into words. And I didn’t know how to really describe anything and i’m not i’m not normally you know, normally a very emotional person anyway, so I think that kind of sort of added to it. I did you know, definitely on the caretaking side, my sister did a lot of the, you know, more emotional type of work with my mom, I did more of that. Like, okay, you need grocery shopping you need you know, I’ll cook you dinner I’ll do so we kind of divided the caretaking stuff along those lines and what what worked to our strengths. Right. And yeah, so yeah, I had a really hard time like describing anything and so it was really all kept internal. And I think I was you know, just kind of reading articles on the internet I came across a Huffington Post article by Megan from refuge in grief and come down at the bottom it said she she had a phone console a free like half hour phone consultation. I was like, Well, why Why not? I’ll give it a give it a try. And I really enjoyed talking with her. And you know, she was really good about just letting the silence be and you know, just letting me say whatever came up, and she was starting this writing course, the write your grief course. And so I said, Okay, all you know, maybe writing will, will help. And I took the course a few times. And it did it did help me kind of put some work even though I couldn’t verbalize them. It did help me express some of the things and you know, each time I went through it, I kind of you know, new emotions or new new things kind of came up for me. So that was kind of a good, a good starting point for me to start somewhat processing.
Brian Smith 9:58
So yeah, sorry. expressing some of that. Getting in. Yeah. So but you mentioned that you were unable to really speak your grief, and it started to manifest physically. So how did that happen?
Zee Wolters 10:09
Yeah, and I think so I think a lot of it was, you know, even though I could write stuff, I still felt and I did, like, start a little bit on, you know, posting a few things on social media, but that was, you know, also very kind of anxiety ridden for me. I wasn’t used to, you know, kind of putting myself out there for that. But I was still having a hard time, you know, kind of communicating. And there was a lot of anger as well, you know, I was kind of keeping that. And it would be, you know, stuff that I, you know, when I even knew then that it would be irrational, you know, like, I get, you know, super angry, it was Mother’s Day, and you get emails of, you know, from various, you know, corporations like, oh, by mom flowers, or by mom this or make reservation. And, you know, I’m unsubscribing, and I’m sitting there, you know, oh, some of us don’t have moms like, this is very
Unknown Speaker 11:03
Brian Smith 11:05
Yeah, but you know, that that anger is very, very natural that we go through that. And when, as you were saying, that reminded me of someone that I knew a while ago that on Mother’s Day, you know, she didn’t have a mother, and she would get angry at everybody that did. So that’s, I think that’s a common thing. And when we’re going through grief, we don’t realize it, because we know it’s not rational, but we still have it.
Zee Wolters 11:26
Right, exactly. So it was kind of this, this thing where it’s like, I don’t want to talk about it to people because I’m like, Okay, well, this this, I mean, I know that it sounds irrational, I know that it sounds crazy. And, you know, being fairly young, you know, I didn’t have friends that had lost parents, or were, you know, most of them hadn’t even lost grandparents. Yeah. So you know, it, I realized, like, well, I can’t say this to people, because it’s insensitive. And so I kept a lot of that in, and, you know, keeping all of that in, and it just kind of, you know, built up. And since I wasn’t processing it, and I was having a hard time even processing it mentally, because people would say things like, or Eric read articles, oh, you know, go for walks, do yoga, all of this. And the problem with that, for me is going on walks meant that my brain was free to think. And doing yoga meant that my brain was free to think so all of these activities that people were recommending, I was like, well, but then my brain is free to just kind of obsess over things. And so there were two things that would really happen. One is that anger, and I would obsess over the anger over and I’d rethink things and rethink things and create scenarios in my head and build things up to be bigger than they were, and I’d get, and it would build that anger. And I would kind of feed off of it. And I knew that this was not a healthy thing to do, I just couldn’t stop myself from doing it. And I think you know, that brought a lot of, you know, you’re holding all that tension, that anger in your body. And then the other thing that happened for a little over a year after my mom died, was that I would see her in the hospital bed dead. So like, when, when my brain wasn’t distracted, I’d get that visual image again. So then, it was hard to sleep, because now my brain is, you know, relaxed, and it’s like, Okay, and then those images would come in and saying, you know, I did do a little bit of walking, but I’d always listen to like audio books, and there was always something like, I had to have the TV on or I had to have an audio book on just to kind of keep my brain from thinking
Brian Smith 13:53
yeah, from going from going back to the trauma. Yeah, that’s, that’s something that happens to a lot of people as well we kind of get stuck in the loop. And our brain wants to go back to that worst moment in time and just relive it over and over again.
Zee Wolters 14:07
Yeah, and change the scenario slightly and, and so so yeah, so everything I was, you know, reading about this kind of self care what to do. It was all things that were more more peaceful and you know, and but the problem was is that that just wasn’t working for me and I
Brian Smith 14:29
think that’s a that’s a really really good point because I I encourage people to try to get exercise and for me, I like walking in it some people like yoga and stuff but for some people it’s like you said that leaves your brain to freeze we all have to find what works for us. But before we get to how you what was working for you, so you mentioned it was meant it was manifesting with you physically How was it physically manifesting with you,
Zee Wolters 14:52
um, I was getting so I mean, I think some of it is is pretty, you know, traditional with stress, you get a lot of it. You No kind of your neck and back areas, and then I was getting a lot of really bad migraines. And they were the kind of migraines that you almost feel like that there’s like shooting pain
into your temple or into your eyes. And,
and I and then I could just feel it kind of traveling down my back. And I did actually, uh, you know, I went to the doctor, and I was like, I’m pretty sure this is grief related. But you know, let’s just maybe run some tests and make sure there’s not something actually wrong, because I was getting them every single day. And then, you know, I had taking medication for it, I was like, Well, I don’t want to be, you know, taking medication every single day, but I was getting these migraines, and it was like, no matter what I did, you know, changing the lighting, doing less computer work, or any of these things, it just wasn’t solving, solving that problem there. And it was just my whole body started to just ache. And and yeah, and I did read a kind of an article about back then about holding grief in your hips and how, because I was I was feeling it, you know, not just in the back area. But you know, my hips were achy. And I saw this article, and I can’t remember exactly where the article article was. But I remember reading that I’m like, Oh, yeah, like that, you know, maybe that that’s part of it.
Brian Smith 16:38
It’s, it’s interesting how grief manifests so differently for different people. And and for some people, it’s they eat too much, or they eat too little, or they sleep too much, or they sleep too little or, and so it’s really hard when you’re going through it to figure out, like what’s going on with me? what’s what’s really wrong with me, especially when the physical things start to happen. Because a lot of times we don’t think of that mind body connection, that when our mind is that, is that right? It can actually manifest through our body, which is what you were experiencing.
Zee Wolters 17:07
Yeah. And it was the same. I’m definitely an emotional eater. So I definitely ate a lot and gained quite a bit of weight. But it was one of the things that was interesting. It wasn’t just emotional eating, but my mom died on a Thursday in the morning. And I found that Thursdays, I just I couldn’t do anything. I was eating like an entire bag of chips before noon you like do and it didn’t actually dawn on me until months later. And I happened to mention it to somebody. I mean, I think it was like six months after my mom died. And I don’t know, I can’t remember quite the conversation that was happening. But the person asked, and they were like, what day did your mom die? And I was like, Oh, it was a Thursday. And it was like my body knew. But my mind hadn’t really figured it out. But my body knew that. Like, I had had this trauma on a Thursday morning. And it was trying to like, comfort me, in a way. Yeah. And granted, not the best way. But But you know, my but I hadn’t put two and two together until somebody actually asked that. And so and I was like, Oh, I did. And you know, it not so much anymore. But every once in a while I kind of get that, like feeling of dread. Or you know, I’m just like, Oh, I really you know, I need something or you know, I can’t wake up in the morning. I can’t get going. And it’ll still take me a bit while and I’ll be like, Oh, it’s a Thursday. It’s like, I wonder if this is like, you know, I don’t mentally feel like I wasn’t mentally thinking about it. But
Brian Smith 18:49
yeah, not consciously. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s amazing how powerful the subconscious says. So how did you discover you discovered weightlifting, as something that was therapeutic for you? How did you find that?
Zee Wolters 19:02
Um, so I always done, you know, a lot of physical activity. And then after my mom died, I did. I think it was maybe a year later, I did get a gym membership. But I was just kind of, you know, just going through the motions, not really following, you know, a strict program or anything like that. And it was actually route probably around this time. You know, her birthday was was just last week. And so it was about this time of year. And I was finally like, you know what, I’m in so much pain that I actually I need to do something about this. And I you know, I think some of it was that
Unknown Speaker 19:47
I couldn’t deal
Zee Wolters 19:48
with everything emotionally or mentally that my body just said, you’re in pain, and you don’t you’re not realizing how much pain you’re in. So we’re going to show you How much pain you’re in? Yeah. And so I went to the doctor made sure that there wasn’t anything, you know, major going on. And then I was like, Okay, well, I, I started, you know, I did some, like therapeutic massages to kind of help with the tension and the knots and everything I did some acupuncture to, to help with that. And, you know, my doctor, he was like, Yeah, you’ve gained weight, but you know, it’s not anything serious, but maybe would help you to just get a little bit more exercise. So I signed up with a trainer at the gym, they were doing this, you know, New Year, you know, 12 week program thing. So I figured, okay, you know that that’ll give me a goal and something to work for. And again, I wasn’t really concerned about losing weight, it was more about just feeling a little bit better. And I found that the weight like one, I really loved it. And to it, you know, I think some of it was, because it was so strenuous. And then there’s also that a lot of the counting
Unknown Speaker 21:13
that goes, you know,
Zee Wolters 21:15
that it distracted my brain in a way that like the yoga or the walking didn’t. And so, it did take a while but you know, after a month or so I was actually like, Oh, I am actually feeling better. After like, I’m actually feeling a little happier. And I’m feeling a little bit more alert. And, and it was, you know, it was like, I want this to continue. And you know, and I did kind of recognize, like, Oh, this is an exercise that my brain is focused on my actual body. And it’s not, you know, traveling elsewhere. It’s not thinking about my mom. So now I’ve got this one hour, where all of those things that were causing, you know, a lot of grief and pain and reliving all of those situations. It’s gone for an hour. And I can focus on something else. And so I think that was, you know, and it kind of goes back at you really have to find what works for you. Because, you know, nothing that I had read nobody that I talked to you had ever said, Oh, try weightlifting. You know, it was always like, cardio, or yoga or meditation or walking. And none of that was working. So
Brian Smith 22:33
yeah, grief is unique. And everybody, everybody is different. And so when when we recommend, for example, meditation to some people, they’re like, well, I can’t meditate, because as soon as I close my eyes, I go right back to the trauma. Yeah. So for you, it apparently was a distraction. It’s also some good things that happen to our body when we lift weights in terms of releasing endorphins and stuff like that.
Zee Wolters 22:54
Exactly. And I think, you know, it did kind of move into where I could actually do proper self care. Because, you know, as I was kind of feeling better, and feeling healthier, you know, moving and actually getting some exercise. And then, you know, before I was doing a lot of emotional eating, and you know, I was definitely thinking, well, this is self care, like this is how I process. But the problem was, is that I wasn’t kind of intentionally doing it, right. Whereas now I can be like, Well, yeah, I’m, you know, it’s my mom’s birthday, I know, like, I’m going to have a lot of grief. And you know what, I’m gonna make myself this nice meal, or I’m going to get some cookies, or I’m going to order a pizza. And I’m going to sit down. And I’m going to think about my mom. And so now, I feel like, I’m still using food, but I’m using it in more of an intentional way. And so it really now is a self care habit, instead of before where I was just mindlessly eating and telling myself afterwards, well, this is self care, this is how you’re going to feel better. This is what makes you feel better. This is what you need right now. And there wasn’t a whole lot of that intention. So then it wasn’t doing what I was telling myself that it was going to do.
Brian Smith 24:13
That’s that’s a great observation. And if you like that all the time, and also makes you feel terrible, you know, we’d like to do that every once in a while, but we don’t want to we don’t want to be doing that every day.
Zee Wolters 24:23
Right? Yeah. So so that was you know, and you know, now I do kind of plan things out. I’m like, Okay, I’m going to do a really good work. You know, it’s my mom’s birthday, I do a really good workout in the morning, and then I can relax in the evening, you know, and have whatever it is, it’s going to make me feel, you know, good. And I and then there’s not that guilt that comes later where you beat yourself up for it like, Oh, I shouldn’t have done that. Or Oh, that didn’t actually make me feel good. And, you know, because before I was kind of getting into that spiral, oh, this didn’t make me feel good. Now I’m having another bad day. Now I’m going to, you know, do the same thing and hope for something, you know, hope for a different result. Oh, that didn’t work? Well, I’ll try it again. And you know, and then a week goes by, and you’re just like, well, now I’ve just done these really destructive habits for an entire week. And
Brian Smith 25:15
that’s a good point. Because it’s easy to get on a kind of a downward spiral, right? If we’re not, if we’re not getting any exercise, it actually makes us feel more sluggish. And then we don’t feel like exercising and then we’re eating the proper foods word. So we start gaining weight into it. We have to you have to do something to break that cycle, which, for you is weightlifting. In terms of your weightlifting, I get the feeling this is more than just going to the gym a couple times a week and lifting a little bit of weight.
Zee Wolters 25:42
Yeah, so I actually, so I, so I did the kind of 12 week program. And then I was just like, well, let’s, let’s continue, let’s let’s see what else like what can I do with this. And so I still have the same trainer, I did some power lifting for a while and got pretty, pretty intense with that. And right now, I train about heavy weightlifting about four times a week with COVID and everything. And being here in California, you know, set up a home gym, in my garage, but yeah, so you know, I do pretty heavy training four times a week. And, and kind of put a goal out there, you know, maybe do a competition bodybuilding competition sometime next year, when, hopefully, things are opening up a little bit more. So it’s kind of my, my, I’d kind of avoided it for, for a lot of people can say, Oh, you should you should do a competition. And I was like, no, no. And I’m like, wow, you know what, maybe, maybe I will so. So that’s kind of my my goal right now.
Brian Smith 27:01
So you started weightlifting? When did you start weightlifting? Actually.
Zee Wolters 27:05
Um, so I’ve done a little bit before, but I think it was 2017 is when I got really 2000 I think maybe the end of 2016 2017 is when I got really, really into it. So it did take you know, a couple years after my mom died to really reach that point where I was like, Okay, I mean, and I’d kind of been trying things and just kind of been like, Okay, well, you know, see what sticks, you know,
I actually found also that knitting.
Again, I think it was the counting, you have to count the stitches and whatnot. So it kind of once I got the hang of knitting and I wasn’t you know, screaming at the yarn and you know, breaking the the needles and stuff because they weren’t doing
Unknown Speaker 28:01
what they were supposed to.
Zee Wolters 28:05
So there was a lot of anger and frustration in that. But I had read an article about knitting and grief. And I was like, Well, again, I’ll try anything. So I
Unknown Speaker 28:13
Brian Smith 28:14
it’s you’re making some really good points, we have to explore different things. So knitting, you might think, well, it’s kind of the opposite of weightlifting. But it is something it’s kind of something repetitive is something that we can concentrate on something that can kind of take us out of that conscious thought. And it’s kind of a meditative side type of thing.
Zee Wolters 28:31
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s, it’s a different form of meditation. But and, you know, I think the fact that you are also creating something was was helpful. I mean, I’m not sure if my friends and family appreciated all the like, lopsided scarves, they got that.
Unknown Speaker 28:49
Zee Wolters 28:51
But, you know, I think the fact that you can be like, I did something like I’m grieving, and I’m in this process, but I did something and I think the weightlifting kind of had the same thing. Because, you know, as you’re building the weight, and you’re lifting more weight, it’s like, oh, like, I’m doing something I’m improving. Like, I’m getting stronger, I can lift heavier weight. And so it’s, you know, one of those kind of, like, small milestones that you point to, like, Hey, I got out of bed, I took a shower, I made my bed. You know, I added five pounds to my squats, I you know, I made Christmas gifts this year. So they’re kind of little things that don’t necessarily directly focus on the grief, but I think they kind of help you for when you’re ready. Yeah. And I think that’s what it really was, is that by focusing on my physical body and making my physical body healthy, then I was like, Okay, now I’m actually ready to really look at my grief and to really process my emotions. Like I can handle it now. Yeah, you
Brian Smith 30:02
got your your mind back to being in a place where you could be strong enough to handle it. And you know, what I, when I work with people I talked, I talked about the early days, weeks, months, years, I call it like the white knuckle period, you’re just holding on, you’re just trying to survive moment to moment, you know, get out of bed function, you know, stuff like that. And then eventually get to the point where we say, Okay, now I want to start healing, you know, I want to I want to start feeling better. And that can be different for different people, some people, it’s six months, some people’s four years, some people, it’s, frankly, it’s never, some people just kind of stay in that mode. But you sounds like you got to the point where like, I’ve got to find something that works for me.
Zee Wolters 30:40
Yeah. And I think, you know, what we said is true, is that we kind of have to get to that point, almost on a on our own. And if somebody had said that to me, you know, six months after my mom died, I would be like, Yeah, no, like, you don’t understand, you don’t know what I’m going through. You can’t tell me what’s going to help me you know, you don’t you don’t know. And I would have been very defensive. And so it really did take getting to the point where I was, like, I am in so much pain that, you know, I can’t sleep I you know, I’m taking medication every day, I’m, you know, I can barely physically function. I have to do something. And it was almost, you know, I had gotten to the point where it was like, Yeah, like, I just can’t live like this anymore. And that’s what, you know, really kind of drove me to find something.
Brian Smith 31:38
Yeah. So how did you get involved with the speaking group project?
Zee Wolters 31:42
Right. So, um, it was kind of through the, you know, when I was doing the writing course, the refuge in grief, and I think it was about maybe a year or two after, you know, Megan was looking for someone to help her with the course, some of the administrative stuff. And I was, like, you know, what, this course did really help me. Kind of, even if I couldn’t verbalize it, it helped me put some of my thoughts into on paper. And so I really wanted to kind of help and, and, you know, give back in even a small way, so I started helping with the monthly writing course, just kind of helping people get, you know, get situated, you know, grief brain, when, you know, you’re in the midst of it, you can be you know, away, I’ve signed up for this course, how do I log in? How do I, you know, and just kind of, you know, helping people get through that. And she, when the documentary came up, she actually recommended me to the directors. And it was very, you know, I agreed to do it. And it was very nerve wracking. Because I’m not, I have, I don’t normally put I’m good kind of talking one on one and, you know, personal but kind of putting myself out there like, oh, social media, and, you know, on videos now on a podcast. This is this is definitely been kind of a challenge and putting, you know, moving myself out of my comfort zone there. But I think it was also really good. And I absolutely loved it. You know, the whole idea behind the speaking grief, documentary and the fact that they really built it up to be you know, it’s not just a documentary, we’re going to provide resources for people were going to, you know, put out a lot of material that people can use. And in doing that, I think is and then, as I kind of shared a lot of this on social media, I started hearing from people. And I mean, I keep my stuff pretty private, but just from like, my own social circle, I start hearing from people. Oh, you know, thanks. Thanks for sharing this, or thanks for putting this out. Like, you know, I’m sharing it with my friends, or I’m sharing it with somebody I know who’s who’s grieving, or you know, as time went on, I actually started to know more people who have who have lost loved ones. And I didn’t know they’d never talked about it. And so when I put you know, I started sharing a lot of the the speaking grief, the clips or their, their social media and whatnot. And I started hearing from people acquaintances, oh, yeah, I lost my dad or my brother, and thank you for sharing this. And I was like, Oh, I had no idea. I no idea that you were going through any of that. So I think that has has really been kind of an eye opener for me on like, how much people are going through that we don’t share. And
Brian Smith 34:58
that’s a really good point, too. May, we don’t know what other people are going through. And until a lot of times into whether we take the initiative and give them permission to speak their grief, people just hold it inside and you realize that does that doesn’t work, it’s going to grief is going to manifest one way or the others, it’s going to come through you. And we can, we can try to hold on to it. But really, it’s really grief is something that has to be processed, we’ve got to go through it. So it’s great to see resources. And we should probably tell people that may not know the speaking grief, as a documentary, but it’s also a list of resources. And you can find it speaking grief.org and it’s great to see this, this coming out where people are able to start talking about this because our society, it’s very hidden, and it’s almost something some people’s envious shamed of.
Zee Wolters 35:47
Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, the, the film did a really good job of showing grief in a number of different aspects, how it impacts different people, different relationships, and you know, that that is one thing, you know, when I sent it to people, you know, they were just like, Oh, we love that it touches on all of these aspects. And I was, I was really proud of the way that they they put it together. It was it was kind of hard. And I know that when it first came out, they they sent me the link to watch it. And I was kind of like, Oh, I don’t I don’t know, like, I was really kind of nervous. And I’m friends with a few people that that had also participated in it. And they started sending me messages. Oh, it’s really good, like, and your parts really good. And I was like, Oh, really? And they’re like, you haven’t washed it. I was like, No, not yet. Um, so it was kind of one of those situations where, you know, I’m sort of like, hiding under a blanket, on the sofa watching it. But I was, I was really, I was really happy with how they did it, and, and all that, you know, all the different types of grief and emotions and feelings and how people deal with it and process with it. And I think, you know, a lot of the, the material that they have on, you know, on the website, and everything is really good, too. You know, how to talk to people or, you know, how to how to how to be a good friend, how, because sometimes, you know, a lot of people say, Oh, well, I didn’t contact you, because I didn’t know what to say. And honestly, like I had some friends that they would literally do that. I don’t they don’t text me. I don’t know what to say I’m just here. And that was honestly the best thing. It’s just like, you don’t need to say anything, just say that you don’t know what to say. Like, that’s, that’s okay. Because, you know, most of us don’t know what to say. So,
Brian Smith 37:55
yeah, even after going through, you know, what I’ve gone through and working with people that I work with, there is no magic bullet, you know, there’s, there’s no one thing to say, Well, I was talking to a mother a couple nights ago, and her brother in law just lost his son. And she was asking a group of us. So what what things can I do to help him like right now what things they do to kind of fix him like, right now we’re like, there are no magic bullets. It’s early stage means you said we kinda have to get to a point on our own, when we’re ready to start taking the steps out of it. And up until that time, it’s just kind of hanging on.
Zee Wolters 38:27
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, everybody is is different, like, what works for one person, you know, you could say something to one friend, and it’s great. You say it to another friend. And they’re gonna, you know, yeah, go crazy over it. So, you know, it’s just really about I think, also just being, you know, compassionate and realizing, like, hey, like, I, you know, yeah, this worked for this friend, but it didn’t work for this friend. And hey, you know, I’m really sorry, I said that and just kind of accepting that, like, they’re not really mad at you, per se. It’s just, you know, you triggered them in a way and, yeah, it’s gonna, you know, and again, it’s one of those things that I feel like, when I was, you know, right in the middle of my grief, it was again, it was one of those things like, Okay, I know, they don’t mean it, but I’m just really mad. And whereas now that I’m, you know, a few years out of that, you know, I’m, I’m a lot more understanding of that. But, um, yeah, you know, when somebody will even tell me would be like, Oh, well, they don’t really mean it that way. Like,
well, as I said it,
and you know, it just I wasn’t ready to hear.
Brian Smith 39:42
Yeah, well, yeah, that’s another really great point that you brought up this these things that can trigger us and I’ve been talking to people and they’ll say that I can’t believe this person said this to me, you know, and they just they’re so upset and and I understand that but I’m like, what, but they’re they mean, the best You know, when people are saying these things was the mean the best but sometimes it’s Just triggers.
Zee Wolters 40:01
Yeah, yeah. And people’s triggers are different. And sometimes you don’t even know your triggers, right? I mean, I didn’t, you know, there was a lot of things where I was just like, oh, wow, like, I am really angry over this. And it was a complete surprise like that, you know, there were some things that I could get. Oh, yeah, like, something like, this would definitely make me angry. But yeah, there would be something that I would just completely collapse over. And I was like, Oh, I was that came out of nowhere. I was not expecting that. And, you know, I think that even now that that still, that still happens, aware, you know, everything’s fine. And then all of a sudden, like, somebody pulls out like a photo album. And you know, there’s a picture of my mom, and I’m just like, Oh, I was not prepared for that right now. And for some reason, it just hits hard. But it you know, if it had happened a week later, it might not have hit that hard. And it would be like, Oh, yay, there’s a picture of my mom, that’s like, so awesome. But, you know, it just kind of depends on what’s going on that day or that week. And, you know, something can be a trigger one week, that’s not a trigger the next week. And so, you know, I think that’s, it’s really hard. And it’s hard for people to, you know, who maybe haven’t gone through grief, or that have gone through it, that you know, what works for them, and then not realize that, hey, this doesn’t work for everyone. So I think, you know, the more we talk about it, the more we can have compassion for different people’s paths, different people’s ways of coping.
Brian Smith 41:37
Yeah. So it sounds like you say in the, in the, in the film documentary, they do talk about people do different approaches, which I think is a wonderful thing. Because as we said, It’s everybody’s different. And actually, every grief circumstance is different. When you when your mother passes, you have a different relationship with her than you have with, you know, a spouse or child or grandmother or a friend. So we sometimes go through these different great things were like, well, this is really different than, you know, when the other person passed away. But it’s a different relationship. It’s all unique.
Zee Wolters 42:08
Right? Right. Yeah. Yeah. So you know, I think, I think that yeah, I think the more that we talk about that, the more we can just, you know, have empathy for people and to just really be understanding, and I think, you know, the more we can do that it’ll, you know, hopefully, help people, you know, move with their grief, and not kind of remain really stuck in that first. emotions, first experiences of it, because I know, you know, in that first, first year, I definitely felt like, Oh, I’m gonna be like this forever, like, this is, you know, and it’s so strong. And this is my grief. And, you know, it was almost like, you know, like, nobody can take this away from me, like, my mom’s gone. But I have this grief. And, you know, it’s but definitely looking back, you’re just like, Well, yeah, I don’t want to stay in that place, forever. But it is, it is hard to, to kind of, I think, move, move forward. Because sometimes, you know, that that’s what you have, and you don’t have your person anymore. But you have this grief. So yeah, you want you really want to hold hold on to that, because that’s what you can hold on to.
Brian Smith 43:25
That’s another really important point. And I know, I went through that when my daughter passed, you know, you feel like you just said it perfectly. I don’t have this person anymore, but I have my grief. So people hold on to a degree of like, it’s a like, it’s a comfortable, a comfort blanket, you know, it’s like something that we just, we hold on to, and we wrap ourselves up in it. And we say I’m gonna, I’m gonna feel this way for the rest of my life, because I really love this person. Therefore, I need to feel this way. Because otherwise I’m kind of letting them go. And that’s, that’s a, that’s early phase that we go through, but it’s not necessarily it doesn’t have to be true. And you figured out it wasn’t. So how would you compare yourself now, seven years later, the person that you are to the person that you were, before your mother transitioned?
Zee Wolters 44:11
Um, I would say, you know, in some aspects, I feel like I’m, I’ve kind of gotten back to being me, in a sense, because, you know, definitely, sort of during the years when she was sick, I did put some stuff on on hold, and then a lot of you even if I wasn’t putting on hold, it was always framed within the context of her illness.
Unknown Speaker 44:40
Zee Wolters 44:44
you know, after after she, she passed that, you know, there was definitely, that, that kind of holding on, I don’t want to change anything in my life. Because, you know, as soon as I start changing, you know, now I’ve got a life that she wouldn’t recognize. So you know, that was kind of another hard thing to kind of go through is like, Oh, I’m making changes, and I’m moving forward. And I’m doing things I’m doing powerlifting. And that was something that I never did before. So my mom wouldn’t even be aware, like, this wasn’t something that I had done previously that I was like, Oh, I’m going back to it. This is like something completely new. And it’s like, oh, now I’ve got this new thing in my life, that she has no idea that that was going to be important to me. Um, so that was really, that was really hard. But I would say that, I think last last year was really the first year where I was like, You know what, I’m actually I’m feeling good about myself. I’m feeling I’m excited about life, I’m excited about doing new things. There wasn’t as much. There was still sadness, but I felt like the excitement about doing new things in my life was greater than the sadness of the fact that my mom wasn’t there to see it. So it’s still there. It’s just the balance is, is different. And so yeah, I think, you know, last year was the first time that that I really felt that and I really felt excited to try new things and excited to do new things, and to really kind of put myself out there in in ways that I hadn’t before. And, you know, this this year has definitely been a little different, you know, with with COVID and everything.
Brian Smith 46:43
for everyone. Yeah.
Zee Wolters 46:45
Yeah. So, you know, I was kind of surprised last week on how hard her birthday was for me. And I was kind of like, well, and it was weird, cuz I’m like, I don’t know why exactly. It was so hard, is it because, you know, everything in the world right now is kind of crazy and stress inducing. So it just amplifies the emotion or if it’s the fact that, you know, I have been talking a lot more openly about my grief through the speaking grief documentary, I had scheduled this podcast with you. So you know, I was I knew that this was coming up. And you know, I’ve been posting a lot more on social media about it, and definitely promoting a lot of these things on social media. And I was like, Is that why it feels?
You know, stronger, but I did, you know,
her birthday was on on Friday. And again, it happened on Thursday. I’m sitting there. And it’s, you know, kind of early in the morning, and you know, I’m munching on like potato chips. And I’m like, Yeah, I don’t feel good. And then you’re halfway through the day. I’m just like, it’s Thursday. Like, Oh, well, that makes sense.
Brian Smith 47:58
Yeah. Recognizing it. That’s great. Yeah. So um, I know you’re taking out you’ve taken up something else, you’ve taken up aerial dance. And yes, working on a piece with that.
Zee Wolters 48:10
Yes. So my sister actually owns a circus Performing Arts studio, the stage global in a kind of close by, by us in Pomona, California. And she was fortunate enough, she went virtual when all of this happened. So she was able to keep her business going. And normally, we do shows, and so this year, because we can’t do live shows, we’re doing a virtual show. And I did kind of I took up the aerial rope. So I’ve been learning to do to do that. And this year that the show that we’re doing, it’s she’s calling it mementos. And it’s about kind of, what kind of things do we want almost like a time capsule of 2020? What do we want to kind of remember or put in this or commemorate. And I, you know, since I am a historian, and I did kind of figure since while I was teaching certain histories where I was like, well, since we’re going through a pandemic, you know, maybe I should teach a little bit more about pandemics throughout history and plagues throughout history and do a little bit more of that. And so when this show came up, I was kind of thinking about what I wanted to do. And I’d been reading more on the dance mccobb and the Black Death in the medieval period. And this kind of idea of, you know, it’s a plague and, you know, it’s also this kind of joyful dance and death is kind of bringing everyone together and kind of this equalizer here and I was just like, well, this kind of cover You know, similar things, what we’re living through right now. And
it’s a historical
event, poem and artwork. And so I’m kind of doing a artistic visual representation of the dance mccobb. So I’m currently working on the, we’ve done a little bit on the choreography for that this week. And I’m going to kind of finalize that next week. So I’m pretty excited about it. I think Shannon
Brian Smith 50:32
mentioned, you mentioned death there. You mentioned, I think you mentioned joy or something, bringing people together. So how do you feel about death at this point?
Unknown Speaker 50:40
Um, I mean, it’s still
Zee Wolters 50:45
it is, you know, I wouldn’t go, you know, definitely, like, in a kind of historical poem, you know, it’s, it’s all about, you know, it’s kind of this equalizer between the social classes and,
and all that.
And he, you know, it is still really hard for me, to really kind of be that accepting of it, like, I know that it happens, but it’s still kind of, you know, I still don’t want to think about it. And it’s still, you know, just too painful, because I have gone through it. And so even though I know, like, I’m going to go through it again, and again, and again, and you know, I’ve gone through it, you know, with numerous pets and stuff before this, but it’s just the amount of pain that it that it brings is
Unknown Speaker 51:43
Zee Wolters 51:46
to kind of see that sort of joy in it. And, or the celebration, and I know, like, there are cultures that do more of the like, joyful celebrations at funerals or memorials.
And, you know, on the one hand, I love that.
And on the other hand, I’m like, I don’t know how much I could actually do that. And maybe now I could, but I don’t you know, I don’t know, actually, even now, I don’t know that I could actually do like a super joyful thing.
For my mom without completely breaking down. Yeah.
And, and I would love to do it. But I feel like I almost you know, in doing this artistic piece, it’s almost a little bit removed. You know, okay, this is a way to experience that aspect. But not make it it’s almost not fully personal. Because, yeah, I think it would, it would still be just really too painful to try to do that on a personal level.
Brian Smith 52:54
Well, just my observation from having met you an hour ago. You know, I see joy coming through you, I’ve heard you describe the growth you’ve gone through over the last seven years, I see you working on this documentary, you’re doing great work by putting it out there for people, you know, you’re doing this podcast, you’re helping people. I see you taking this thing that happened to your mother and going through this process and saying, I wanna help other people go through this process. And that’s a you know, so you went from working on yourself, you know, working in your body and working with your nebbia and creating things to now actually going out and helping other people. And I think that is a process that we can go through with grief. And I, I call that like the final stage, where you get to the point where you’re like, Okay, I’ve worked on myself, I’m not, I’m not healed, we’re never fully healed, we’re always going to miss our loved ones, or you’re going to get a tear in your arm, you think about your mother, but you also smiled a lot of times when you mentioned your mother. But that step when you could say I can turn from how do I take care of myself to how do I take care of others? I think that’s the final the final stage of saying that this, this grief thing that I’ve gone through has brought something good about, and I hope you can see that.
Zee Wolters 54:12
Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, it is very, very hard to kind of process that, that, like this horrible thing happened, and it’s terrible. And I’ve also done something good with it. And it is, you know, I think it’s easier now to kind of mentally
conceptualize that because
definitely earlier, you know, it was like No, nothing, nothing good can ever happen from this, like Nothing good will ever come out of this. And and I think it’s that balance of saying, you know, you didn’t need this to happen to do something good. But you were is able to, to make something good. And I think that’s the difference is that sometimes, you know, people look at it, or they might say, Oh, you needed this to move forward. It’s like, No, I didn’t need it to move forward. But I definitely used it in a way to help other people. And, you know, that again, helps me. So
Brian Smith 55:24
yeah, and I think this is another really good point, because we can look at it either way, in this choice, you know, I happen to believe everything in our life is planned. And that and that we plan it ourselves, actually. That’s the way I look at it. And that helps gives helps me to find meaning and purpose and things. But if you don’t choose it, look at it that way, the event happened either way. You know, your mother, your mother passed, my daughter passed, it’s already happened. So what am I going to do with it? And that’s, that’s the question that we all have to face, no matter what our beliefs are, about why it happened, if it had to happen, it did happen. And what do we do with it? And you, you’re a shining example of, you know, going through the process and finding your own path, you know, because no one can tell us how to do it. No one can say, Okay, well walk five miles a day, and then you’ll be okay. In a year, you know, it’s like, no, for you is weightlifting, for me, then I wouldn’t be I wouldn’t probably work for me. Right. So, yeah, I really appreciate you sharing your story, and promoting the project speaking grief speaking group.org. And we encourage people to look that up, because it sounds like a wonderful resource for people. And to tell people you know, you know, find your own way, and maybe it’s lifting weights, maybe try that, if nothing else is working.
Zee Wolters 56:42
Right. Yeah, if you’ve tried others, you know, and I think that’s the, you know, the best thing is just keep trying stuff, because eventually, you know, and, again, with me, I mean, it took years to find, you know, took like 334 years to actually find something that worked. But I think you know, and even you know, when I was, you know, really in the deep of it, and just really, you know, in the worst stage, mentally, you’re you still I think, as people, we still kind of want to do something or to try something. And I think, you know, that’s the best thing is just just keep trying, and it’s perfectly okay, if something doesn’t work. And I think you know, like, we can’t beat ourselves, hey, I tried this, and it did not work for me. And that’s, that’s okay, that it’s nothing I need to feel guilty about. It’s, you know, and then as you know, supporters, it’s, you know, we shouldn’t make people feel guilty about that, or, you know, oh, you should try this. Yeah, I tried that. It didn’t work. Oh, no, but you did? Did you try it like this? Or do? And it’s like, you know, except that they tried it? And you know,
Unknown Speaker 57:48
make a new suggestion.
Brian Smith 57:49
Yeah, well, I just said that reminded me of, you know, I promote meditation a lot. And I was talking to another teacher, and she had, she had meditated for years. And she’s like, I’m done with meditation. And she’s like, I’m not promoting, but so we had a really, really nice conversation about whether people should meditate or not. And it’s not, it’s not for everybody the way that I do it. But we came to an agreement that mindfulness is important, but we don’t actually necessarily do forte, you know, I formal meditation. So, yeah, it’s, we’re all human beings are all unique. Every every relationship is different. Everything that we need is different. But what I get from you is like, the human spirit is just amazing. And I, but I will encourage people that are still going through those early phases, is to have faith in yourself, that you’ll get through it, and things will get better. Because I know at the very beginning, it feels like it’s never gonna happen. Yeah.
Zee Wolters 58:41
Yeah. I think that’s, that’s, that’s so true. You feel like it’s not going to happen. And if somebody tells you, oh, it’ll get better, you’re just like, No, it won’t end. And, you know, that’s, that’s, it’s okay to be there. You know, it’s, and eventually, you know, kind of, as you slowly you know, work towards different things, or try new things, you know, all of a sudden, you find, oh, yeah, it is feeling a little bit better. And I feel a little bit better, and that doesn’t diminish, and I think there was a point where I was just like, Oh, is it diminishing? My mom or my love for her or my memory of her? And and you do go through that? And you know, and eventually you get to a point where Oh, no, it’s not. It’s still sad. And there’s still a lot of pain there. But it doesn’t diminish any of the good things as well.
Brian Smith 59:34
Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting easy and having this conversation with you appreciate you doing this and putting yourself out there to help other people with the project and when we’re doing doing the promotion doing the podcast here today, and I wish you luck with your with your dance routine. I’m sure it’s gonna be great.
Zee Wolters 59:55
Thank you. I appreciate it. And thank you for having me me on here. I do. appreciate having the opportunity to share this a little bit more with people.
Brian Smith 1:00:03
All right, well, you enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks you too.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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